How Having a Chronic Illness Complicates Retirement

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There’s a reason they’re called “the golden years.” The post-retirement years should be, well, golden. After a long career and countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, retirement is what we have to look forward to. 

We imagine it as perhaps the best time of our lives. Retirement is when we finally escape our daily responsibilities, when there’s nothing to worry about but how we’ll enjoy the day.

Unfortunately, though, if you’re one of the 133 million Americans with a chronic illness, the reality of retirement often falls far short of the fantasy. The challenges of retiring when you have a chronic illness extend far beyond the medical condition itself. They include a whole host of factors that might compromise the quality of your post-retirement life, from the financial to the psychological stressors involved in managing your health.

The Cost of Chronic Illness

Retirement is something nearly all of us dream of, but the reality is that few of us are sufficiently prepared for the end of our careers. According to a 2016 study published in Money, 1 out of every 3 adults in the United States has no retirement savings at all, while 23% of those who are saving have less than $10,000.

Facing a chronic illness, however, can make it far more difficult to save for retirement or to have financial security after retirement. According to recent estimates, lower-income families spend an average of 35% of pre-tax household income on healthcare.   

If the illness is significant, patients may well lose their ability to live independently at home. Assisted living facilities can be a terrific alternative to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, but the costs can be exorbitant, depending on the level of supportive care the resident requires. 

There is hope, though, for freeing yourself from the burden of medical debt, allowing you to move into your retirement on a firmer financial footing. One of your best options is to reach out to your creditors to discuss more manageable repayment plans and to explore the possibility of full or partial debt forgiveness.

If your creditors aren’t willing to work with you, you might consider consulting with a nonprofit counselor or advocacy group. They may be able to negotiate a settlement on your behalf or point you to other helpful resources in your area. 

Facing Early Retirement

Unfortunately, chronic illness doesn’t usually operate on our timetable, and that means you simply can’t count on keeping healthy until you reach full retirement age. In fact, 34% of people in the US between the ages of 18 and 64 have some form of chronic illness. 

That’s nearly 60 million working-age adults who may be forced into early retirement. For many of these workers, chronic illness forces them into making the difficult choice between sacrificing financial security by retiring early or risking their health by remaining on the job. 

But it’s not just chronic illness that threatens American workers. Workplace injuries are also a significant problem. According to a recent study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 3 million non-fatal workplace accidents and injuries happen every year in the US. 

And not only do workplace injuries threaten your ability to keep working, but if your employer isn’t properly insured, you could well be denied the worker’s compensation benefits you need to cover your medical expenses. 

When you find yourself injured on the job, regardless of what the injury may be, it’s imperative to protect yourself and your future retirement by acting urgently. Learn the status of your employer’s insurance policies — if you haven’t already — and seek legal representation to ensure your rights are protected before any time limits expire. 

In Indiana, for example, employees who get hurt on the job or those who fall ill due to environmental hazards, such as exposure to asbestos, enjoy special state protections under the law. And if your injury or illness makes it impossible for you to return to work, understanding your rights and the resources available to you can make all the difference to your quality of life during retirement.

The Takeaway

Retirement should be a time of security and serenity. When you have a chronic illness, however, the peace and pleasure you’ve earned for your retirement can be all too easily lost. The great news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be that way. It may be possible to negotiate debt forgiveness, repayment, and settlements. Above all, connecting with attorneys and advocacy groups can give you someone to fight on your behalf, help you connect with the resources you’re entitled to, and ensure you enjoy the happy, healthy, and secure retirement you deserve.

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